Northern California foodies flocked to this Valencia restaurant when they heard Aaron London, who got a Michelin star for his vegetarian cooking at Ubuntu in Napa, was bringing his produce-focused expertise to San Francisco. Al’s Place isn’t a hippie-dippie vegan restaurant but an affordable, maybe yuppie, invention. Though most of the menu favors the plant-based eater and vegetarian, there are some hearty classics, like hanger steak.
If you judge a restaurant by its decor, then you’d rate this Valencia Mexican the coolest of cool. The interior is junkyard chic: one wall is painted yellow and covered in origami boats, another with old car doors. The family-owned place is crowded with regulars sharing classics from the tapas-style menu, like fried brussel sprouts with hazelnuts, guacamole with cotija cheese, and plenty of tacos.
For a night in Rome, make a reservation at Locanda, an osteria from the folks behind Delfina. Critics rave that this is one of the best Italian restaurants in San Francisco and in true Roman fashion, the menu centers around pasta dishes with a few protein mains. It’s bigger and more sophisticated than Delfina — whereas its sister only serves wine, Locanda has a full bar where bartenders mix drinks with Italian aperitifs.
Over the past few years, a small-batch artisan ice cream craze has been sweeping the country, and Bi-Rite might be the purveyor to blame in San Francisco. This isn’t where you go for an oversized (and underpriced) serving of factory-made chocolate chip mint, but for a pricey dollop-like scoop of homemade ice cream. The untraditional flavors — balsamic strawberry, honey lavender, cheesecake with blueberry swirl — have locals lining up down the block.
Historically speaking, the city by the bay has been much more partial to the Mexicatessen than the Jewish-style delicatessen. Wise Sons Deli, which started as a pop-up in 2011 before getting its own counter-serve in the Mission, is changing that by bringing pastrami on rye, matzoh ball soup, and babka to Californians. Extremely popular for all-day breakfast, especially with plans to debut housemade bagels, another Bay Area rarity.
You don’t have to know anything about Korean food to like this fusion spot on Dolores Park. Snag a seat facing the traditional charcoal grill and watch the kitchen prepare small plates like Korean chicken wings and shiitake dumplings. Stir-fry fans should go for the stonepot of rice and vegetables, and if all else fails, order the burger. The mostly young crowd is paired off into attractive couples with at least one person wearing the newest tech gadget that’s only available to pre-order.
Tartine Bakery’s sit-down sibling is a must-try for local foodies and out-of-towners looking for a restaurant that represents the best of upscale casual Bay Area dining. Order the $76 tasting menu to get the full Eastern European-meets-California culinary experience and if you like what you see, go home and buy the Bar Tartine cookbook, a collection of the kitchen’s most inventive dishes.
It’s usually in the most basic of taquerias where the best burritos can be found, so proves this 40-plus-year-old Mexican joint whose traditional rice-free burritos have won national accolades. The classic order is a carnitas or chorizo burrito, but tacos and vegetarian options are also on the cheap eats menu. Expect a line and scarce seating at peak lunchtime hours.
This is the San Francisco equivalent of a Brooklyn warehouse. By day, it’s an art studio and gallery; by night it’s a club, loft party, live music venue all in one. It’s housed in a completely non-descript building (one with a Banksy mural) and it’s on a dead-end street by the highway. It has that underground feel that draws indie hipsters and in-the-know visitors.